Edinburgh Fringe 2022 
Interview

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John   
Rwothomach 
Far Gone
ZOO Southside - Studio
Aug 5-11, 15-20, 17:40 /  Tickets
July 22, 2022

A Roots Mbili Theatre and Sheffield Theatres co-production. 'If I invited you to come with me on a journey, a story, will you come with me?' Northern Uganda. When Okumu's village is attacked by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), he and his brother's lives are changed forever. Far Gone is a profoundly moving story of a young boy's journey from childhood innocence to child soldier. Seen through the eyes of those that love him and those that betray him, Okumu's experience strikes straight at the heart through a powerful one-man performance.

 

Hi John, thank you for talking with The New Current, how have you been keeping?

 

Hey, yeah all good, excited to be talking to you. Keeping busy, trying to create new projects for the future, whilst of course maintaining an eye on the current stuff.  

 

How does it feel to be bringing Far Gone to ZOO Southside this summer?

 

Nervous, excited, scared, delighted you name it. We’ve been wanting to bring the show to the Fringe since 2020, tried so many different avenues but with the pandemic it all seemed near impossible. I am so proud of the show and cannot wait for the Fringe audience to see the work the creative has crafted. Thank you ZOO for having us.

 

The reaction to Far Gone has already been amazing with people calling it a “masterpiece”, and it has also been named one of The Guardians ’20 top shows not to miss’, what has it meant to you to get this type of reaction to your play?

 

Absolutely humbling. As artists we spend a lot of time creating, thinking, shifting ideas, then re-thinking, recreating, the process is an ongoing one. So when audiences and reviewers understand the work and receive it so positively, it shows to me that all the hard work was worth it. And gives us the motivation to keep going. One of the reasons I really pushed to bring the show to the Fringe was because of the overwhelming positive feedback we received from our Sheffield Theatres run and the UK tour. 

 

Will there be any nerves ahead of your run?

 

I would be telling the biggest lie if I said no to that question. The care for the show is so much, it is crucial that every audience of every night experiences the show at a high standard. That standard is dictated by the wonderful work of the creative, and my performance. I have to maintain that standard. I think the day I stop being nervous is the day I should stop performing. It’s not fair on the audience. 

 

What does Edinburgh Fringe mean to you?

 

An absolute honour. This is the first time a production of Roots Mbili Theatre is being shown on a world stage. So much work has gone into ensuring it plays at ZOO. We will be showing our work to an international audience. We will also be platforming and raising awareness of Women's Advocacy Network, a charity in Uganda for whom we are raising money through selling our programmes at a pay what you decide scheme. As we are also planning and hoping to tour the Far Gone worldwide, the Fringe offers the perfect opportunity for international programmers. I am so looking forward to it. 

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"I am an artist who happened to have had a very small near experience of what these children went through."

Can you tell me a little bit about how Far Gone came about, what made you want create a show that is inspired by your personal life?

 

At age 8 in Uganda, I nearly got kidnapped by the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), the rebel group highlighted in Far Gone. At age 18, London, in my first year of drama school, I see a campaign by Invisible Children - an American ‘charity’ led by Jason Russel - to capture Joseph Kony, the LRA leader. The ‘Kony 2012’ campaign was a propaganda film with a lot of lies about the real situation in Uganda with which Invisible Children had managed to raise millions of dollars in the name of protecting war affected children. As you can imagine, as someone who is well privy to the actual situation, what exactly these children went through, someone who was nearly one of these children I was beyond angered by the campaign. It was then I promised myself to tell the story one day. 

 

It is also worth mentioning that this is not my story nor is it about me. It’s for all these children and families who have had to endure the pains of war simply because they were born at a certain time, in a certain place. 

 

Did you have any apprehensions about writing and performing in a show that deals with such powerful and salient subjects?

 

The short answer is no. I don’t see a story following a little boy from being abducted to becoming a child soldier should insight any negative reactions, and to be honest it hasn’t. I simply wanted to shed light on a different aspect of life in a part of the world that most in the west are not aware of. 

Has it been somewhat cathartic in a way for you?

 

Healing of trauma on such a scale takes time. When I was in Gulu, northern Uganda last year, it was still very present and visible  the effects the LRA have left on society. This healing work will take at least a few generations before it is fully dealt with.  I am an artist who happened to have had a very small near experience of what these children went through. I do not have the slightest idea what it means to be a child soldier. The healing is not mine to have, but I hope with this production and my art, I can help in the journey of it. However big or small. 

 

What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced with this show and what have been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken away from Far Gone?

 

Making theatre, any theatre is challenging enough. Writing and starring in a one person show, well that's just madness if you ask me. One of the biggest challenges was navigating between John the playwright and John the actor. The actor was mostly eager to get things going, get up, improvise scenes and see what comes. The writer on the other hand had questions, lots of questions. Both of these personalities needed to be fed and listened to. Knowing when to tell the writer to shut up was hard but crucial.

 

The biggest lesson over and over again would be working with a collaborative creative team. I often say Far Gone is not a one-man show, and it isn’t. It is a collection of work of artists from different disciplines in theatre, and each of them have left their mark of artistry on the show. I just happen to be the one through whom it’s presented. Collaboration is the best way of making theatre. 

 

How important has the creative collaboration between you and your director Mojisola Elufowoju?

 

Far Gone would not be the show it is without Mojisola. Mojisola came on board right from the research and development phase of Far Gone. We discovered the African storytelling language together. Together with dramaturg Paul Sirett, Mojisola was crucial to the development of the play's plot. Everything was a conversation, sometimes we agreed, sometimes we disagreed - it’s a process of making art, if there are no disagreements someone’s not being honest - but no matter what, we always tried out all ideas put forward. But mostly, we both knew immediately whether something worked or not. 

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Because of the personal connection you have to your text have you had any issues letting go of the piece and handing it over to audiences?

 

I hold the personal belief that plays don’t belong to creators of them. They are the property of the audience. Everything we the makers of stories do, the conversations we have, the late nights spent editing, the 10pm tech sessions, are not for us, they are all so that the audience can understand and own the story. The job is the story, and the story belongs to the audience. As a playwright, my job is to draw the map that will help the creative team navigate and tell the story, once that is done, I hand the map over. The treasure is not mine, it’s the audiences’. 

 

Are you looking forward to exploring more theatre as a writer and director in the future?

 

Absolutely. Being the founder and Artistic Director of Roots Mbili Theatre (RMT). I have a few projects lined up for the next couple of years. As a playwright, I have decided to write in trilogies. The first being War, for which Far Gone is the first play. I am currently writing the second play in the war trilogy that looks at the contribution of African soldiers in WW2. The second trilogy will be called The African Diaspora, the idea for the first play of it is already formulated. At RMT, we are also looking to co-produce Lines with Remote Theatre Project based in New York. Lines looks at the relationship between Uganda and Palestine, and the role the UK’s colonial past has played in shaping both countries. 

 

You can of course find out more about our upcoming work on our website. We are also looking for support to enable us bring these shows to life. 

Do you have any advice, tips or suggestions you would offer anyone wanting to get into theatre?

 

Make sure you have a strong ‘why’. And it can’t be money or fame, there’s none of it in theatre. Mine is, I’m either doing this or I’m doing this. 

 

And finally, what message do you hope your fringe audiences will take away from Far Gone?

 

The story of this little boy and all the characters in the play, could be anyones’ story, it could happen to any of us had we been born around the same time, in the same place. In war children suffer the most, they are robbed of innocence.